Archive for Repurpose. Regain

Furniture and Clothing – NonCash Donations as a Tax Deduction

Wondering if it would help your Federal tax return to take a deduction for the clothing your donated?

The Fat Dollar article – Clothing and Furniture Donations on Your Tax Return was just updated and has links to Goodwill and Salvation Army valuation pages as well as useful information and IRS links. Click the link to see the article.

What better way to get a tax deduction than by cleaning out your own closets!

Junk That’s Really Treasures – Your Stuff May be Worth Money


Treasure ChestOk, maybe your old stuff isn’t worth a fortune, but it could be worth more than you expect. While I was clearing out some of my own clutter, I happened across a 2012 Woman’s Day magazine. (Yes, I did say I was clearing clutter.)

An article in the magazine intrigued me. It listed several items that “could fetch big bucks on places like eBay”. Hmmm.

Here are the things that were listed as possibly valuable items hiding in your home:

1. Small kitchen appliances – like bread machines, food dehydrators, espresso machines

2. Video Games – check

3. Tacky Sweaters – sweaters decorated with things like pictures, holiday themes, cats – the ones that Aunt Gertrude gave you that you would never, ever wear

4. 1950s Furniture

5. Vintage Electronics – pre-1980s stereo and hi-fi equipment – LP turntables, reel-to-reel tape decks, vacuum tube amplifiers, etc.

6. Lunchpails – vintage lunchboxes with TV show or celebrity images

7. Gold – old chains, earrings, broken bracelets

I’m on the lookout for tacky sweaters now. Did you know that you can search “tacky sweater” on e-Bay and a whole list of them will come up? It looks like you could sell one for at least $9.99. Not bad for something that you would love to get rid of!

Video games, I’m not so sure about. It must depend on the game. We’ve tried to sell some of our own games and sometimes the best offer was $1.00 per game. Sometimes it was $10.00.


Here are some other resources for finding potentially valuable items in your attic:


The Penny Hoarder – 7 Places to Find Hidden Cash .

Huffington Post – 15 Items in Your Home that May be Worth Money

Reader’s Digest – 9 Vintage Items That May be Worth Money

Mashable – 9 Valuable Things You Didn’t Know are Lying Around Your House

Cracked – 8 Insanely Valuable Items You Probably Owned and Threw Out

The Children’s Toys That Have Soared in Value

Bottom Line Personal – Don’t Throw Out These Old Electronics

BuzzFeed – 33 of your Childhood Toys that are Worth a Fortune Now


How to Sell Your Old Stuff

Once you find any collectible or valuable items in your home, selling them is the next step.  You can reach a broad market by selling on the internet. While selling your item on eBay is  a good way to consider, you should always first Google your item or do an internet search for your item to see if there are any collectors or specialized sites that might be easier and more profitable for selling your particular item.

One relatively new way to sell things on the internet is Facebook. Try searching “garage sale” and your city name on Facebook and you will likely be amazed at how many buy-sell-trade pages are operating in your area.

In my area the general procedure to sell something on Facebook is to first join the Facebook group for the online garage sale.  Then, following the rules of the group, post the item for sale with a photo and description.  The first person to comment that they are interested or want to buy must be given the opportunity to purchase.  Once the sale is agreed, then a public place is set for meeting and completing the sale.  If you break any of the rules of the group, then you are likely to be banned from the group

This is a good way to sell larger value items, but not necessarily items that will not sell for very much, especially since you will have to take the time and spend the gas money to drive somewhere and meet a prospective buyer.

Certainly you can also use the traditional ways to sell:  letting others in your circles know you have a unique item for sale, advertising in local papers and newsletters, and placing an ad on

A last resort would be a local pawn shop.  While you can quickly sell most moderately valuable items to a pawn shop, expect to sell for  much less than you would receive if you sold it yourself.

Finding treasures in your home and selling them has so many benefits:  it clears out items from your living space, it puts an item into the hands of someone who really values it, and it gives you some money for investing or paying bills.  Now that’s the Fat Dollar way!

Be sure and share with us any of your own found treasure stories!


Photo credit: & Stoonn

Low Cost Home Heating Ideas

We’re snowed in today, at least until we can get the driveway plowed and get the vehicles out.   We had a beautiful, dangerous blizzard yesterday.  Today and tomorrow we are under a wind-chill warning.  It’s good to be inside and I am grateful to have electricity and an internet connection.  (And a working boiler.)

Woman wrapped in blanket and drinking coffee for home heatingWhile doing a bit of research, I came across several plans for inexpensive or low cost home heating.  I haven’t tried any of these, but I’m considering it.  You’ll have to make your own judgements about the safety and effectiveness of these.  If anyone has tried these or something similar, it would be wonderful if you would share your experience in the comments.

1)  Build a Solar Air Heating Collector from Soda-Pop Cans:

Greg’s Pop-Can Solar Space Heating Collector

This is not only inexpensive – you use empty soda cans as well as old double paned windows and other found materials – but it looks much nicer than would be expected.  It is somewhat labor intensive as you will need to drill or cut out the ends of each and every pop can.

2)  Mother Earth News – Solar Heat Grabber

DIY Solar Heating with the Heat Grabber

This one claims to cost $32.18 to build, but keep in mind that the article is older so prices are likely higher now.  The unit fits next to a window and is not exactly attractive.  The article has very good information about how to place the unit and what angles and placements are most effective.

3)  Tea Light and Flowerpot Room Heater

No, this is not a joke.  The author claims that this heater will heat a room for about $.15 a day.

[04-01-18 Editor note – this video seems to be changed or removed from You Tube – I removed the broken link!] You Tube Video – How to Heat Your Room for 15 Cents a Day

This one seems like it could be a bit dangerous if you have small children, pets, or if you are a bit clumsy.  It uses small candle flames to create a convection heater.

4)  Electric Heater with a Battery and Ceramic Plate

This one takes some electric wiring knowledge, but that fact that it uses a 1.5v dry cell battery fascinated me.  If you could find a rechargeable battery, this could be a good emergency or portable source of heat.   I don’t know how safe it may be – best to check with the electrician in the family.

How to Build an Electric Heater

5)  Solar Heat Panel

Another Mother Earth News article about building a solar panel – this one was designed to add heat to a garage or work shop.

Build a Simple Solar Heater

The designer of this unit is an engineer that wanted to heat his outdoor workshop.

There you are.  5 Ideas for creating low cost home heating from the sun, a battery, or a candle.  If you try any of them, please let us know how it worked and how much it cost.

I have one more idea for staying warm when then temperature outside is -15 degrees F.  Wear thermal sock liners.   They are worn underneath your regular socks.

I bought a pair from to give to my son this Christmas, but when they arrived, they were sparkly silver, thin, and knee-high. Seeing no way he would wear them, I kept them for myself.  Wow!  They are so effective that I am completely warm and comfortable which is a big change for me.   Don’t tell my son … he may want them after all!


photo courtesy of and marin





Clothing and Furniture Donations on Your Tax Return

[Editor’s note – this article was updated on 02-14-16 to reflect current tax years and links]

One common and easy way to help a charity is to donate your good used clothing, furniture, and household goods.

Family Donating StuffBesides a clean house with more usable space, you may also receive a tax deduction for the fair market value of your donations.   A tax deduction on your income tax return can mean more money for you to pay bills, enjoy, invest, or to donate to charity.

To claim a deduction on your 2015 Federal tax return for a donation, you will use the Schedule A (Itemized Deductions).  Yes, this means that you must be able to itemize deductions in order to claim a Federal deduction for a donation in 2015.

One common question with donated clothing, furniture and household goods is how to figure the IRS donation values.

The short answer is that you will be able to deduct the lower of the fair market value or your cost basis of the donated property.

Figuring your cost basis is simple.  Your cost basis is how much you paid for the item.  You may also add in any additional costs to improve or prolong the life of the item.  For example, you may have paid $55.00 for a pair of shoes.  $55.00 would be your cost basis.

As another example of cost basis with extra costs, you may have paid  $50.00 for a dresser at a garage sale, and then another $25.00 to buy new handles, glue, and paint to improve it.  Your cost basis in the dresser would be $75.00.

Note, though, that the amount you can deduct is the lower of the cost basis or the fair market value. For most taxpayers, fair market value is what they will use on their tax return to value their donations.

So how do you figure the fair market value of donations?  Good question and the simple answer is:  fair market value is the amount that you could sell the item for.   Usually this will be the thrift shop or garage sale price.

Here are some resources to help you value your donated goods:

Goodwill Industries – Donation Value Guide  This Goodwill page has a link to a downloadable booklet which gives guideline values for clothing, household goods, and furniture. The link is toward the bottom, under the section Taxes and Your Donations. For example, according to the Goodwill guide, a woman’s shirt in good condition would have a fair market value of $2.00 – $12.00.

The Salvation Army also has a guide – Valuation Guide for Salvation Army Donations  In their guide, the Salvation Army values a woman’s blouse between $2.50 and $12.00, similar to the Goodwill values.

If you frequently shop at garage sales or thrift shops, then you likely already know what prices are reasonable for valuing your clothing and other items.

Other things to keep in mind for tax return purposes when donating clothing, or household goods:

The condition of the items must be at least “good” condition before the IRS will allow a deduction.

The donation must be made to a qualified charity.  Giving furniture to a deserving family is a worthy action, but it will not be tax deductible because the family is not a qualified charity.  Use IRS Search for Charities – (previously Publication 78) to see if your charity is qualified.

Keep a detailed list of your donated items, or snap multiple photos for your records.  Also keep notes on the date of the donation, the address and name of the charity that you donated to.

If your donation value will be $250.00 or more, be sure to get a signed, dated receipt from the charity.

If all of your noncash donations for the year total $500.00 or more, you will need to report the details on Form 8283.   The Instructions for Form 8283 are also a good resource of information on donations of noncash items.

IRS Publication 561 has good information – Determining the Value of Donated Property

Simple Life Corp has a more detailed article on taxes and giving items to charity – Is Your Donation A Tax Deductible Donation?

How much will a donation of household items affect your Federal taxes?

Let’s use the women’s blouses as an example.  Say you do a major clean-out of your closet and end up donating a variety of 20 women’s blouses in good to excellent condition to Goodwill Industries.  Using Goodwill’s valuation chart, you value these at $8.00 each.  This gives you a deduction of $160.00.  If you can itemize and you are in a 15% tax bracket, you will reduce your taxes by $24.00.  Not bad for an hour or two of cleaning out your closet.

Even better, you’ve helped out a charity, you now have a simpler, less crowded closet, and you got a few extra dollars to donate, spend, or invest. Now that’s The Fat Dollar way!




[11-30-13 … the link to the Salvation Army valuation guide was updated.  Also note that Publication 78 is no longer published by the IRS, but the link allows you to search for qualified charities.]

This article is for guidelines only and not to be considered specific tax advice. Consult your tax professional for specific advice on deducting donated items on your tax return.


What to do With that Turkey Carcass

Roasted TurkeyYesterday, I was thrilled to serve my family simply the best turkey I’ve ever made. It was a brined turkey and it was tender, juicy, and had subtle spice tones and broth flavors. This was my first year to brine the turkey and I’m a convert. I’ll brine the turkey next year for sure.

Last night, Chris and I each spent time carving and scraping off every last bit of meat from the turkey carcass. We got as much as possible and even gave a few scraps to the dogs (much to their delight). Yet there still seemed to be good turkey meat left on the carcass and I was sorry that we had to throw it away.

Normally, we toss the carcass in the field behind our house for the racoons and who-knows-what other animals to feast on. This year we decided not to do this, because we’ve heard coyotes howling across the field and we did not want to attract them to our area.

This morning, I realized that there are delicious uses for the turkey carcass and all those tasty bits of meat that we could not cut off. A fellow personal finance blogger, Eyes on the Dollar, has a great recipe for making turkey soup from the carcass. How I wish I had read this a day or two ago! I’d be making turkey soup right now.

Here is the blog post Leftover Turkey Recipe just in case you can still make use of it.

Even if you don’t want to make turkey soup, you could make turkey stock.  (Why, oh, why didn’t I read this blog post yesterday!!)

Here are a few more sources for recipes:

Next Day Turkey Soup – Food Network

Homemade Turkey Soup Recipe 

Rescued Turkey Stock

The vegetables and seasonings may add as much as $1.00 to the cost of your stock. If you make a habit of collecting leftover veggies in a freezer bag in the freezer, you could use those for your stock, reducing the cost even more.

Keep in mind that you can use most any vegetable to make stock – be creative!

The 3-4 hours of heating on a gas stove will cost about $.35 *.

The cost of the vegetables, spices and energy for the heat would then make the turkey stock cost $1.35 or less for 6 -10 cups of stock.

Immediately make your turkey soup with the stock and then put the extra stock in containers in the freezer and use it for soups and other dishes. You could also make a large batch of turkey soup and put the extra soup in the freezer for ready-made dinners.

Mmmmm… I can hardly wait for my next turkey.  I may even watch the grocery store ads and pick up a turkey on any after-Thanksgiving clearance sales.

Do you have any recipes or ideas for that turkey carcass?  Share them with us in the comments below!



*estimated cost of energy from Duke Energy of Ohio

How to Make Washing Soda

I’ve spent more time than I would ever have imagined on experimenting with making washing soda by heating baking soda in my oven. I thought that today I’d give you a summary of how to make washing soda and some secrets to determining when the process is complete.

Why make your own washing soda?  Because it’s often hard to find in the store.  And because if you do it right, you can easily make it for less than the cost of commercial washing soda.

So here is the very simple process
– How to Make Washing Soda

Bag of Baking SodaYou will need a glass casserole dish (or other oven proof dish) and about two cups of baking soda.  The dish must be glass because the washing soda will react with metal pans, especially aluminum, and may damage the pan.

Put the baking soda in an even layer in the casserole dish.  Use about two cups, or whatever quantity makes about a 1″ thick (or smaller) layer in your pan.  The thicker the layer, the longer it will need to be heated and the more it will need to be stirred while heating.

Now place the baking soda dish in the top rack of your oven.  Leave it there while you do your normal cooking.  Leave it there even when the oven is off.  Every few times you use the oven, take the dish out and stir the baking soda and put the dish back in the oven.

Let the baking soda sit in the oven for a week or so until you have about six cumulative hours of heating the oven to 375 degrees or higher.  By then it should have converted to washing soda.

Although it works to simply heat the baking soda alone for about 3 hours at 375 degrees, I don’t recommend this because the expense of heating your (gas) oven for 3 hours would be about $.34 an hour for a total of $1.02.  That would actually make your homemade washing soda cost more than the washing soda you could purchase in the store.

If you could find it in the store, that is.

If you normally cook at temperatures above 400 degrees F, then you may find that your baking soda converts faster.  You may also need less time if you start with very small quantities of baking soda.

Use the tests below to determine when you actually have washing soda. If your tests show it has not converted yet, just put it back in the oven and continue heating.

How can you tell if your baking soda has converted to washing soda?

There are several ways that will help you determine if you have made washing soda:

Secret 1:  The volume of the soda has increased.  Heating about 2 cups of baking soda will convert to about 2-1/2 cups of washing soda.

If the volume has not increased, put it back in the oven for more heating.

Secret 2:  Dissolve a tablespoon of the powder in about 1/2 cup of clear water.  Washing soda will dissolve quickly and stay dissolved.  Baking soda will need to be shaken, stirred, shaken again to get it to dissolve.

Then let the solution sit for about 15 minutes.  The washing soda solution will stay clear.  The baking soda solution will develop a layer of white powder on the bottom of the cup after 10-15 minutes.  That’s because you thought the baking soda dissolved in the water, when in fact it was just fooling you.

Secret 3:  Look closely at the texture and color of the powder.  Baking soda is a brilliant white and the particles look like very tiny grains of white sand or sugar.  Washing soda has a subtle gray cast (compare it to unheated baking soda) and the texture is more powdery, like a fine talcum powder.

The difference is subtle, so don’t be discouraged if you feel that you are just guessing that the color and texture has changed.

Secret 4:  Do a pH test on the washing soda.  Dissolve the washing soda in a 1/2 cup of filtered water.  The washing soda solution should test alkaline with a pH of 11.6.

Here is a photo of baking soda:

Spoonful of baking soda being put in a cup of water











And here is a photo of washing soda:

Spoonful of washing soda added to a cup of water











Once you’ve made the washing soda, keep it in a sealed container. I use a 32 oz size yogurt container, but you could use a zippered plastic bag, a clean jar, or any container with a lid.

To boost your laundry detergent, use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of washing soda per load. It can also be used as a heavy-duty cleaner – just mix with a little water to make a paste or more water to make a spray solution.

Remember that washing soda is caustic. With a pH of 11.6 it is more alkaline than ammonia which has a pH of 11.5. Bleach has a pH of 12.6. Don’t let washing soda powder or solution come in contact with your skin.

You can read the details of my seriously flawed pH test and the later successful pH test as I tried to determine whether I had actually converted the baking soda to washing soda.

Enjoy the process and savor the savings! That’s The Fat Dollar way.




Got Used Coffee Grounds? Use them!

We make a pot of coffee everyday which means that we have a filter full of used coffee grounds everyday.  Since we have a septic tank and we don’t want the grounds to build up a sludge inside the tank, we don’t rinse these down the drain.  That leaves me curious and looking for uses other than simply tossing them in the garbage can.  Over the years, I’ve found a long list of really excellent uses for these grounds.

Occasionally we will make a second pot of coffee.  Since the grounds are already in the filter, I put about 1/2 the usual amount of new grounds right on top of the freshly used ones.  It still makes a very good cup of coffee, although not as excellent as that first, smooth, deeply flavored first cup of the morning. Could just be that I’m not as groggy and my taste buds are fully awake by the time we start on the second pot of coffee, though.

It’s nice that the second pot of coffee costs half the price of the first pot. That is a savings of $.50 to $.75, depending on how strong we want the coffee. *   If we did this everyday, and still enjoyed the second pot of coffee, the savings would add up nicely.

Beyond that, we have many other excellent uses for the grounds.  The one I use most often is to sprinkle them around the rhododendron bush, the blueberry bushes as a mild acid-enriched fertilizer and as a general nitrogen-enhancing additive for the rest of the garden.

Probably the next best use is as an exfolliator and cellulite reducing beauty treatment.  Messy, messy, messy, but possibly very nice results.  Do an allergy test first if you are going to try this.

I’ve posted an article on The Fat Dollar site,  26 Uses for Used Coffee Grounds … -including using them for repairing scratches in wood, as a scrubbing agent when cleaning, making a treasure stone for the kids, a pesticide, natural deodorizer, a hair rinse … and more!

It feels great to keep something out of your septic tank or landfills and at the same time make a money-saving very effective use for it.  That’s exactly what you can do when you have a second use for your used coffee grounds and that ‘s The Fat Dollar way!

Don’t forget to have fun finding new uses for the grounds.  If you have another use for them, share it with us in the comments below.  Thanks!



Article references:  Uses for Used Coffee Grounds – The Fat Dollar

Brewing Tips from Polly’s Gourmet Coffee


* Pricing – Copper Moon World Coffee Hawaiian Hazelnut from Sam’s Club – 2.5 lb for $14.98 – we use 1.75 to 3.0 oz per pot of coffee.  Not including the water, electricity or wear on the coffee maker, a pot of coffee will cost between $.78 to $1.41, depending on how strong we want the coffee.

According to, the SCAA recommends 3.75 ounces of coffee (about 10-11 tablespoons) for each 64 oz pot of coffee.



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Save Money on Wrapping Paper

One part of Christmas gift giving that has always bothered me is the wrapping paper.  I do love the colorful paper and the cheerful ribbons.  Yet I have a bit of heartache when I see that lovely paper get ripped into messy pieces, wadded up and thrown away.  (And don’t get me started on the effect that all that paper has on our local landfills. According to the Recycler’s Handbook, 1990, HALF of all paper consumed in the Unites States was for wrapping paper products.  That’s about 4 million tons.)

I try to keep a balance with the gift wrapping.  I’ll have several gifts that are beautifully wrapped, with elegant paper and lots of ribbons and bows.  I’ll also mix in gifts wrapped nicely, but simply and with less expensive paper and perhaps just a ribbon or one bow.

I admit that cost is not the only factor; some of that has to do with how tired I am of wrapping presents.  You can usually tell the presents I wrapped first from the ones I wrapped last.  First ones: lots of fancy paper, sharp folded edges, curly ribbons, and bows.  Last one:  lucky to have the paper on straight and even luckier to have a bow.

Wrapping paper is on sale this week at Target for $2.50 for a 90 sq ft roll.  Even so, I’ll wait until after Christmas when it is on sale for less than half that price.  I’ll store it in the attic to use for wrapping presents next year.

I’ll also scout through the Christmas clearance paper to see if any of the rolls will be suitable for birthday and other occasion gifts.  Plain colors, like gold or red, make good all-occasion wrapping paper.  Paper with designs is usually a little harder to use throughout the year, unless, of course, you can convince the kids that snowmen in Santa hats is a really cool way to decorate birthday presents in August.

You may even want to re-use wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows.  In their book, Living on a Shoestring, the Tightwad Twins recommend ironing used wrapping paper to make it like new.  Spray on a little starch if needed to make the paper crisp again.  That is a nice idea, especially if the wrapping paper is especially beautiful.  However, I like the idea only if it is used as a natural afterthought and does not take control of the unwrapping process.  It seems rather stressful and Scrooge-like to insist that a gift recipient tediously and carefully avoid ripping the wrapping paper as they are opening an exciting gift.

Gifts bags are especially easy to reuse.  Even the tissue paper inside the bags is usually reusable.  Just be sure to take off the gift tag.  You don’t want to give a gift to sweet Aunt Mabel that has a gift tag that says “Merry Christmas to my brother”.

To save money on wrapping large gifts, I have a favorite tip:  the Sunday comics.  The comics are colorful, fun, and best of all: free. This year I wrapped one of Chris’ gifts in the comics:








I won’t tell you what the gift is, because it’s a surprise. I’m really looking forward to watching him open it.

You can also use other materials from home to wrap presents.  Large scraps of fabric, pretty cloth shopping bags, inside-out brown paper bags, old maps, and even new towels can be used to wrap a gift.

With a little imagination and creativity, you can save a lot of money on wrapping paper this year.  Have fun while doing it and you’ve got the Fat Dollar way!

Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays





Testing for Washing Soda – The Failed pH Test and the Unexpected Discovery

I’ve been making my own laundry detergent for a few months now.  Our clothes are clean and soft, and we are enjoying both the money savings and the absence of perfumes and unnecessary chemicals in the wash cycle.

Many of the recipes for laundry soap use washing soda as an ingredient.  In my main recipe, I use baking soda.  Lately, though, I’ve wanted to experiment with washing soda to see if it might be a cheaper alternative and also if it might add noticeably to the cleaning power of my laundry soap.

As I was searching for where to find washing soda, I found many people were claiming to make their own washing soda by heating baking soda in the oven.  While I could find a general consensus that the baking soda would be heated for 1-2 hours in a glass (not aluminum, since washing soda is caustic to aluminum) dish at 375 to 400 degrees F until it turned uniformly from fine-sand white to a grainier, slightly greyer powder.

I wondered, did that really create washing soda?  Or just warmed-up baking soda?  Researching did not really help me until I found a scientific site with a formula for creating sodium carbonate (washing soda is 100% sodium carbonate).  In one of the steps of the formula, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda is 100% sodium bicarbonate) was heated until it released carbon dioxide and water, leaving – ta da!  – sodium carbonate (washing soda!).  However, the heating temperature in the formula was 300 degrees C, which translates to 575 degrees Fahrenheit.  Way too hot to be safe in a home kitchen, or with most kitchen dishes, pans, and ovens.  Downright dangerous, I’d say.

So, now I wondered if heating the baking soda at the lower temperatures for longer time periods would indeed create washing soda.  How could I tell?  Sure, it looks a little different.  But how could I be more certain?

I realized that washing soda has a much higher pH (much more alkaline) than baking soda.  So I decided to heat up a batch of baking soda and test the pH of the resulting powder.

To make a long story short, my pH test was fatally flawed.  I found out mid-experiment that my pH tape was not rated to test over 9.0 on the alkaline scale.  Washing soda has a pH of 11.6.  Baking soda is 8.4.

By the way, it’s that extra alkaline property that makes the washing soda a better water softener and cleaning agent than the baking soda.  So being more alkaline is a laundry detergent plus, even though it also makes the washing soda a hazardous chemical as far as it should not come in contact with skin and should never be eaten.  Don’t even taste it! Ok? Ok then.

But, I did make a really interesting discovery that made the experiment worthwhile.  Here is what I found:

The jar on the left is baking soda and filtered water.  The jar on the right is the “homemade washing soda” and filtered water.




Note that the baking soda did not completely mix.  It still has a thick layer of unmixed baking soda on the bottom of the jar, and this is after observing it and vigorously mixing it again.  The jar with the “washing soda” and filtered water is crystal clear and was only mixed once.

Thus I discovered that, at the least, heating baking soda dramatically increases it’s ability to dissolve in water.  Actually, that is one of the superior properties of washing soda: it is more soluble than baking soda (ie it dissolves in water faster and stays that way longer).

I do think I created washing soda in my oven, but still have not been able to prove it.  But I did discover the reason why I occasionally get a white powder on the clothes when I add baking soda directly to the rinse water, instead of taking the time to dilute it in water and dissolve it before adding it.  For some reason, the agitation of my washer must not be enough to completely dissolve and redistribute all of the baking soda.

As far as the costs?  In my particular experiment, including the oven heat, it costs 3 TIMES as much to make my own washing soda as to buy it in the store.  I have ideas on how to cut back on the oven heating costs, but for this little batch of “washing soda”, I would have been far better off to simply purchase it at retail.

For all the details of the experiment, and several photos, please visit our site for the full article Make Washing Soda From Baking Soda – The (Seriously Flawed) pH Test .

Here’s to scientific discovery,



Please note: Heat baking soda at home at your own risk! Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is a very alkaline, caustic chemical that can cause skin and tissue damage. It can also damage your aluminum pans. I don’t know enough about the properties and heating process to advise on the safety of heating baking soda. The Fat Dollar does not take responsibility for any damages if you try this at home!



Finding Bargains at Estate and Tag Sales

During the summer, garage sales and yards sales seem to be around every corner.  A garage sale (yard sale, rummage sale) can be a great way to buy items at sometimes less than 10% of their original cost.

A variation of the garage sale (or even an estate yard sale) is the tag sale or estate tag sale.  The general difference, at least in my area, is that the estate/tag sale is generally selling the entire contents of a home on behalf of an estate or due to the owner moving.  The house is opened to the public during the sale hours.  Some rooms or sections of the house are usually marked private or not part of the sale.

Another big difference with the estate sale (or tag sale) is that it is usually set up and run by a group or a small business who receives a commission from the total proceeds of the sale.  In my area, it seems to be two or so main groups of women who are running the sales.  I like this, because as soon as I walk in, I feel some familiarity with the rules and organization of the way the sale will be run.

In the estate sale, you will often find high-quality collectibles for sale.  Small and large appliances, tools, lawn equipment, furniture, and other larger ticket items are also standard items at these types of sales. Sets of dishes, linens, cooking utensils, and other standard household items, often new in the package, are also frequent items found at these sales.

Another big benefit is that the estate or tag sales are usually much better organized and most of the goods displayed are clean and marked well with the size, price, and with a note as to whether the item works or not.

Since the sale is usually inside of a house, the sale goes on, rain, shine, or snow.

Very small items will also be sold.  This usually includes full or half-used cans and bottles of cleaning supplies, beauty items, and even kitchen items, such as spices and ingredients.  I often puzzle at these.  They are for sale at nearly every estate sale I attend, so someone must be buying them!

In general, the estate sales will be selling the contents of a house that was owned by an older person and has many year’s worth of accumulations.  A moving sale may be from any age group, including a family with small children. The types of items for sale will often be very different between a moving sale and an estate sale.

Estate (tag, moving) sales will have their own rules.  In my area, it depends on the group running the sale, but in general, the first day of the sale is a Thursday and all goods sell for 100% of the tag price.  By Friday afternoon, the items are selling for 25% off the tag price.  Saturday morning usually sees 50% off and Saturday afternoon is 75% off.

I usually find that the Thursday prices are nearly overpriced. I would only buy something on these days if it was a rare collectible, an item that was something I’d been looking for and I didn’t want to risk it being sold if I left and came back, or an item that was ok in price and I didn’t want to waste the gas and time to come back on Saturday.

So perhaps the best way to approach these sale is to carefully read the ad.  Estate sales usually have much longer, better descriptions than the usual garage sale.  If there are items that you are interested in, or if it just sounds like a fun way to spend an hour or two, then go on the first day of the sale.  Ask about the price-drop rules at the purchase table.  Buy only the things that you absolutely could not risk losing.  Return either on the last day or on the day when the price will be worth the purchase.

Once you have attended a sale that you like, be sure to ask the person in charge if they have a mailing list or other alert list so that you can attend more of their sales.

I recently found a website that I like that lists local estate sales and tag sales.  Most listings include photos which really helps!  The website is and I’d recommend this one first.

Other websites to try:  (yes it is different from and seems not quite as good)

You could also contact the National Assoc. of Estate Sales Coordinators and Liquidators to find if any members are in your area.

Once you know the names of the local groups that run the sales, you can search online to see if they have their own websites.  If so, these sites will usually have many more photos and descriptions of the items they are preparing to sell.

Also try looking through the ads in your local paper’s classified section.  You may also check the yellow pages of your local phone directory for estate liquidators, auctioneers, or used items.

Of course, always remember that it’s not a bargain at all if you buy things you don’t need!

Have fun and use your bargaining skills.  That’s The Fat Dollar way.